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McKenna savoring latest NHL time

by Matthew Tidcombe | AHL On The Beat

Mike McKenna ranks in the top 10 in American Hockey League wins, appearances and shutouts. He’s a sure bet for the AHL Hall of Fame when he concludes his career.

But for all he has accomplished across his 559 professional appearances, the 35-year-old has won just seven NHL games in 29 contests, despite being the winningest U.S.-born goaltender in AHL history.

“It means a lot to win those,” McKenna said. “I don’t have a lot of NHL wins but it’s just hockey at the end of the day. It feels great when it happens and at this point you start to realize how many people have been following the journey for so long because when something like that happens your phone’s going off like crazy.

“If you’re playing hockey at 35 years old in the NHL, I’d like to think that says a lot in terms of competitive nature and what I’ve accomplished before.”

The most recent of McKenna’s wins came on Nov. 27 when he made 37 saves in a 4-3 Ottawa Senators win over Philadelphia.

McKenna’s NHL debut was on Feb. 11, 2008, for the Tampa Bay Lightning against the New York Islanders. Twenty-nine NHL games later, McKenna is just trying to soak in each day he’s in the big leagues.

“It’s always special and a privilege,” McKenna said. “You hear people say that all the time but when you’re here you really realize it. You also realize how fun it can be.”

Photo: Jason Scourse

Over the course of 14 AHL seasons, McKenna has rarely been a backup. He’s collected 226 wins (tied for eighth all-time) and 27 shutouts (T-9th) and has played in 467 games (10th among goaltenders), and has led teams to the Calder Cup Finals each of the the last two seasons.

With Belleville this season, McKenna is 3-3-0 in six games with a 2.72 GAA and a .914 save percentage.

With Ottawa, McKenna is only playing on back-to-back nights as Craig Anderson continues to get most of the work. McKenna is 1-1-0 this season in five games, two of which were starts.

“It’s been a transition for me as I’m use to playing a lot,” McKenna said. “There’s definitely a different mindset and preparation for someone who is in a backup roll like I’ve been here. I’m being as a diligent as I can in practice.

“The nice thing is I get a lot of extra work and being on the ice every day with Pierre Groulx and being able to fine tune my game has been awesome. It’s almost like going back to school a little bit and trying to be prepared when the time comes.”

With the AHL serving as the NHL’s top development league, McKenna has for some time had a first-hand glimpse at a lot of the young emerging hockey talent playing in North America.

But with Ottawa, he’s getting an even more up-close look at the Sens’ youth movement as former Belleville players like Thomas Chabot, Colin White, Max Lajoie, Drake Batherson, Christian Jaros and others, such as Brady Tkachuk, take center stage.

“It’s awesome to see the young talent,” McKenna said. “To see the guys in the room that are learning how to play at this level, to be consistent and to see that growth is incredible and gratifying that someone like myself in a backup roll, who hasn’t played much, can contribute to that now because of my knowledge over the years.”